Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

McBride Pins Hopes on Schools Education Focus of His Campaign

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

McBride Pins Hopes on Schools Education Focus of His Campaign

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

Democrat Bill McBride has staked his gubernatorial campaign on calling for improvements to Florida's public schools.

So when McBride came to Jacksonville yesterday, he stopped at a community center across the street from Eugene Butler Middle School and blasted Republican Gov. Jeb Bush's education policies.

Under Bush's school-grading system, Eugene Butler received an F this year. McBride called the system "absurd," saying it unfairly judges schools based on annual student test scores and doesn't adequately focus on improving inner-city schools such as Eugene Butler.

"Some of those schools have the biggest challenges in Florida," McBride told a small group of supporters at Mitchell Community Center on Acorn Street northwest of downtown.

McBride, a Tampa lawyer who is trying to catch Democratic front-runner Janet Reno before a Sept. 10 primary, has made education the centerpiece of his campaign. Backed by the state's politically powerful teachers union, McBride is calling for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce school class sizes, raise teacher pay and expand pre-kindergarten programs.

With polls showing that education is the most important issue to voters, McBride has taken a gamble by calling for increased taxes -- including collecting an additional 50 cents a pack on cigarettes -- to pay for school improvements. At the same time, he has targeted Bush, who is focusing his re-election campaign heavily on education issues.

Bush argues the grading system has forced schools to be more accountable for improving student performance and accuses Democrats of distorting his education record. He also says he has boosted spending on public schools dramatically, though Democrats contend that most of the increases have gone to pay for such things as enrollment growth.

McBride stopped at the community center as part of a daylong campaign trip to St. Augustine and Jacksonville. …

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